Ringside Shadows #120: Like Bret Said...
..so my half of the 'World's Greatest Backlash Preview' wasn't exactly heralded with sparkling reviews. In fact, it birthed one of the more unanimously negative collections of reader mail I've seen thus far. Where in the past I'd just brush it all off and move on, I've taken more than a couple minutes to sit back and really let this all sink in. It could be worse.. there could be nobody writing in, leaving me to my own methods (trust me, that would be a lot worse.) The way I figure, there's nothing to be gained from a 'me against the world' approach to Ringside Shadows. Much as I'd like to believe otherwise, no amount of bitching's gonna change the way things are. I can still enjoy a Benoit / Jericho match, whenever we're lucky enough to be treated to one.. I'm through centering on the negatives of the industry.
If this means I'm not motivated enough to write up a regular Tuesday Review, so be it. Honestly, I'm surprised I made it this long with such a rigorous schedule. However, I'll make a promise to deliver something at least once a week.. probably more once finals conclude this Friday. I've already brainstormed a couple worthwhile ideas in between marathon study sessions, and co-writing with a nameless fellow columnist or two isn't out of the question either. Don't get this wrong, I'll still be around to let you know when something sucks a harsh bottom.. I'll just be doing it a helluva lot less.
So before we jump into a quick rundown of this week's happenings, I'll share the quote that inadvertantly brought about thse drastic changes.. as posted by Bret Hart in his Calgary Sun column this past week. (which you can check by clicking here)
"Being a wrestling champion used to be a symbol of who was the best wrestler. Now they hand the belt to whomever will get the most people to tune into the storyline that Monday night. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. Purists can complain, but the truth is ratings have never been higher. I just wish they'd stop calling it wrestling because that's not what it is any more.."
Not exactly the cheeriest of quotes, but I figure if Bret can accept what the sport's become.. well, I may as well give it a shot.
With all that said, this week's programming didn't give me much a chance to get off on the right foot.. so, let's hear it one last time for the overly pessimistic Tuesday Review! The last of its kind..
"Earl Hebner ... the People's Hero"
This obnoxious headline towered over the majority of the WWF.COM Raw Report, much to my chagrin. Here's something I've been looking for in the big two for quite a while.. a referee that doesn't go down after an inadvertant tap, slap or nudge.. and they slap it right on the kisser of the devil himself, Earl Hebner. Vince's shameless attempts to get this bast over following his honesty-shattering betrayal at the infamous '97 Survivor Series have been nothing short of staggering. Anything that could've possibly hung over Earl in an unfavorable light has been avoided. Hebner was at the helm when Austin took the belt multiple times, and often celebrated in the ring with him post-match. On the house show circuit, Hebner was "the cool ref that drank beer and gave the crowd crotch chops". Earl's to blame for Y2J's recent "championship" win. Now he's leading the refs against the heel factions of the Federation.
McMahon's intentions may be well (if Hebner were a heel after the SS, fans would've likely torn him apart. Where Vince is certain to have a big crew maintaining his wellbeing, Earl wouldn't be as lucky), but they aren't changing my opinion of the man.
Leading By Example.. Part Deux
One week beyond his cryptic statement, Hogan continued his path to enlightenment. Just for argument's sake, I'll keep this beast going for another week; comparing Hogan's leadership to that of his "Millionaire's Club" cohorts, Sting, DDP and Kevin Nash. Because we love him so, I'll start this one off with Mr. "FUNB" himself, the immortal Hulk Hogan.
Hogan's extended his program to include Mike Awesome, the Wall and Hulk's own nephew Horace as well as Kidman in his effort to build towards the future. Not even a group assault is enough to keep him down, which pretty well eliminates any hope of credibility in the near future for these guys. If three large, energetic young men can't keep an aging fallen star down, what hope have they against their equally hungry peers? The excuse of "building a cowardly heel," as used with Kidman, can't apply in this many cases at once.. can it?
Meanwhile, in a graveyard somewhere, Sting and Vampiro have quietly built one of the strongest feuds in any of the three major promotions. Originally paired as a tag team, the two have shown strong chemistry in the past few weeks as stars instead locked into a singles feud. Certainly, I could pick at this until the point was moot.. but I'm too entertained to really give it much thought. If WCW can build to a decent finish here(an area where they've been more than lacking in the past), things can look nothing but up for both men involved. Where Vampiro's enjoying the huge boost in status thanks to a prolonged give and take feud with WCW's resident franchise, Sting's slowly decaying career is accepting a breath of fresh air from the youth and vigor of it all. The crowd digs it, and they aren't the only ones.
Kevin Nash made the latest in a string of 'comeback' appearances this week, assuming the role of a taller Hulk Hogan in his little run with Kidman & co. See my comments about killing three careers at once for this one, since the two haven't done much differently between one another. Konnan and Rey's returns were both killed at once here, effectively labeling both as ineffective little ingrates. The same angle doesn't work for half the roster, guys.
Finally, DDP did his best to further elevate Jarrett and Abbott this past evening. While it was something of a step down from last week, one can't fault him for trying. He gave his all in an effort to get Tank Abbott over as the monster truck, plowing over the roster and succeeded as well as any can be expected.. especially considering what he had to work with. His main event with Jarrett this Sunday shouldn't be nearly as worthless as the proposed Hogan vs. Sid event of one month past would've been.. though the stipulation can only lead to a big letdown. Well.. that or a fatality.
The New Blood... Both of Them
After reading the defense of Kidman's new character (a "cowardly heel,") I looked for signs this week, and was actually surprised to see a couple. Kidman cut a superb promo this time around, especially considering the dreadfully long wait for Nash's arrival. For somebody new to the stick, he's got more than a little potential.. but the role isn't meant to elevate (which is what the higher-ups are promising this angle's aiming to do.) As is the case with Vampiro / Sting, the real measuring stick of this one will come with its conclusion. A firm, difinitive finish could seal the whole deal up nicely, while a lingering feud that ends with a whimper would destroy all the hype that's gathered this far.
Speaking of cowardly heels, Jericho seems headed back to the days of old.. or are we just being led to believe it? God knows I'd love a return to his heel persona over the silly, crowd pleasing face he's become.. though I'm sure that isn't a popular opinion. Chris seems to work harder as a heel, he'll use his imagination. Who doesn't remember his trip to DC in WCW, or his ability to get everyone over, be it the anti-personality Dean Malenko, Ultimo Dragon or Prince Iaukea? You loved to hate him, and that's something the industry's missing right now. It all started when Jericho 'snapped' and put Penzer into the Liontamer.. let's hope we can see more of the same, only with a WWF twist.
While we're on the subject of added twists, how about the new Mr. Perfect, Sean Stasiak? It's been nearly a decade since the ultra silly Hennig promos in the WWF, and I figure it wouldn't take that much creativity to upgrade the gimmick.. but apparantly I ask too much. As is, I quickly tire of Stasiak's cracks at the past.. and his ringwork isn't comparable to Hennig in his prime, much less perfection. At least Curt could do what he was attempting, without the aid of multiple cutaways. It may have taken him a while (according to the Dynamite Kid's bio, several hours), but he did it.
I really like Edge and Christian's new gimmick. It's introducing them to the mic, it's given them a recognizable personality for the first time, and it's given them direction. As cocksure, silly heels they're really impressing me (Referring to Test and Albert as 'T' and 'A', respectively, was great stuff). If the follow-through's as impressive as the teaser's been, I'm willing to strap in for the ride.
Does Mark Madden understand what he's saying whenever an 'attractive' young lady comes down the aisleway? "Snootchie Bootchies" isn't a reference to women, Mark...
Because I'm too lazy to respond and post feelings on the same matters here, I'll post some of the ventings of my readers. That works well, I guess.
email@example.com leads off the mail parade;
"I'm sorry but I don't understand some of your comment sin your back lash preview. You say the Light heavy weight title is going to be canned due to lack of interest and feuds. Maybe you don't pay much attention to the WWF but it is apparent to almost EVERYBODY that Scotty 2 Hotty and Malenko have been feuding every since Malenko came into the the WWF and have been feuding over the lightweight title every since Malenko won it. As for lack of crowd interest I have yet to see a light heavyweight tile match (except Rios vs Malenko) where the crow didn't get into it by the end so I don't see where that complaint comes from.
Next you complain about the Dudleyz lack of a push, So what are you saying the WWF should have done. Continue there feuds with E and C and and the Hardyz going and going without ever elevating any other team to get involved in it? So those three teams could of just feuded till the next WM without ever elevating another team because that would be a sign of a depush huh?
Then you say to elevate Jericho he should lose clean? HOW the HELL would that elevate him? How would somebody buy him as a world title threat after losing clean in an IC title match? and don't try to use the Bret Hart/Austin comparison either. It was totally different in that at the time Austin was a heel and heel lose cleanly, it wasn't till after the match that he became a face."
I'll start off with a universal thanks for taking the time to write.. it does mean a lot to get feedback, guys, and while I can't promise I print everything, I will do my best to respond in a timely manner. You're the reason I'm here, and don't think I don't know it. That holds true for all of the letters about to follow.. even the last one.
Getting down to it, I never said the lightweight division would absolutely be canned.. I just figure it's only a matter of time. Vince has never been high on the cruisers to begin with, and he's always on the lookout for an excuse to kill the division once again. Granted, the inclusion of Too Cool has sparked some interest in the once-sad competition.. but I still don't think it's enough. With the audience being as it is today, no action-heavy division really has a hope of survival.. least of all one that features Dean Malenko, the antithesis of personality. I'd love to see it work, and I'll eat my words if it does.. but I'm still not convinced it's a done deal.
Moving on to the Dudleys, I don't think the WWF should've stuck with the three teams featured at Wrestlemania, however the World Champions are always given a rematch after losing their belts. Always. It's nearly tradition. Instead of the Dudleys though, X-Pac and Road Dogg get the nod, which is pretty nonsensical. Buh Buh Ray's angle with Trish was fun while it lasted, but I think it would've been better served later in the game for the Dudleys. After winning the titles, they've pretty well stagnated in the ranks while the others passed them by.. that's why I claim they've been "depush"ed.
Finally, my claims with Jericho and Benoit were also built on something of a tradition. Before moving on to full fledged main event status, a worker will lose clean to the man that's supposed to fill his shoes in the midcard. Take a look back, Hart did it with his brother Owen (not Austin), Rocky did it with HHH, and Flair did it with Bret (way back). Sure, Jericho may not be making the leap to main event just yet.. in which the point is moot.. but in this day and age of crash TV and short attention spans, it would seem to make sense and remain a tradition worthy of upholding.
G MEN27@aol.com had a thing or two to say about HHH;
"You still aren't giving HHH any credit? Can you honestly say that he hasn't improved over the past 6 months or so? I know you won't agree, but I say he is the best heel champ since the days of Flair. I'm not saying HHH is near the worker Flair was, but he plays a heel well. What I don't understand, is that you praise guys like Jarrett and DDP, when they are not as over as HHH and they haven't been in as many huge main events this year. I mean the way you talk about Jarret, you' would think you were talking about Mitshura Misawa. Jarrett is a good worker, but is he that much better than HHH? I get the feeling that you don't HHH because he doesn't have a great moveset, but he sells for EVERYBODY, even Taka and Vince Mc Mahon. While everyone, including Meltzer, is at least giving HHH some credit, you continue to ridicule him with your little sarcastic comments( Which in all honesty are getting quite annoying). The way you talk about him you would think he was some jobber. Hell, when workrate freaks like Matt Spence are giving him credit, you have to stand up and take notice. I mean come on, man...no pun intended, what are you getting brainwashed by Blasingame?"
I'd thought I had given HHH credit earlier in the preview, praising his ability as a successful, long-running heel champ. I just don't think he's up to the level of carrying Rocky to a good match. Not yet, anyway. Jarrett may not have the public acceptance of HHH (which, in itself, is actually pretty debatable. I'd figure Jarrett's getting proportionally equal heel heat, considering the limited audience. So yeah, I'd take his better workrate and moveset to HHH's long promos any day. But this is getting off the point), but he's giving it just as much effort.. an area where both should be commended.
I don't like Hunter as a character, face or heel, but I'll admit he's doing a well enough job in his main event role. He contrasts Rocky decently, and he gives it an effort while in the ring, which is a lot more than can be said for most. By all means, I should be enjoying his stuff, but there's something missing that I just can't put my finger on. Maybe it's a catch.. something. He still hasn't made the full transition to a prime time role, worthy of carrying the company in my opinion, but you're right.. I have been too down on him. Gaining my respect is a difficult task, but Helmsley has it over somebody like the Rock or Hulk Hogan.
Joe N. (firstname.lastname@example.org) had an interesting idea of his own, which ties into my next column;
"I like the idea of HHH keeping the belt, but I think he needs a new stable. I think he should go with an old 4 Horseman gimmik. HHH as the leader dumping DX and the McMahons. He could have the man who needs no gimmick as his ass kicking right hand man in Chris Benoit. He then could go get himself two henchmen to do his dirty work. How bout those two he had whup upon the Rock awile ago in the Dudley Boys. All these guys should get long runs with there respective belts, but there main goal is to keep the World Title around HHH."
Not a bad idea, really. There's no question DX and the new McMahon-Helmsley regime isn't getting any fresher as the weeks go on (though it's nowhere near the longevity record, the rambling nature is reminiscent of the nWo's downfall), and a HHH split and reformation would benefit the individuals, the former friends and colleagues, and the federation as a whole. The Four Horsemen are one of the few things left sacred in an industry ravaged by our generation, and they'll be the subject of my next column (If anybody's been around this long, they were actually the subjects of Ringside Shadows #2, also.) A modern day version would seem empty without Flair, but if anyone could've taken the reigns from him, it would've certainly been Chris Benoit. Where he's missing in the mic department, HHH could ramble along enough to cover while the Crippler learns. Malenko made a nice addition to the four in WCW, so he'd take the slot of the technician in the WWF.. which leaves room for a powerhouse. If he weren't occupied in WCW, Mike Awesome would be a premiere choice.. but what about Tazz?
It's a fun thought, and the Dudleys would certainly fill the roles as well. The subject is always open for debate, and the stable is one of my favorite wrestling angles throughout history.
Thanks for the e-mail, Joe..
Taking us home, James A Holt (email@example.com) followed up the literary masterpiece of his subject line ("YOU GUYS SUCK") with this moving transcript;
"YOU SUCK DICKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
..and so goes the last really pissy Tuesday Review. I'll be working on the said 4 Horseman piece all through this week and into the next, so expect to see it sooner rather than later. I've several more surprises lined up for the rest of the summer (assuming I have time to get to all of them), so keep your eyes peeled... it's sure to be fun.
until next time, i remain